A Tennessee doctor has lost his medical license for issuing covid-19 vaccine waivers to patients he never met in at least three states. One, it turned out, was a dog named Charlie Kraus.
Robert Coble, 76, of Goodspring, Tennessee, agreed to surrender his license in a May settlement with the Tennessee Department of Health that was announced by the agency on June 15.
Coble issued the vaccine waivers in August and September 2021 while working for MedChoice, a company that sold waivers online for $139, according to a health department document summarizing the case. The MedChoice website offered "handwritten medical waivers personally reviewed and signed by a licensed physician," and let customers choose from preset reasons for a waiver, including "I have an autoimmune disease" and "I am very anxious about getting the vaccine."
Coble then issued a waiver to those customers despite "the absence of any patient/physician relationship," according to the health department document. The document does not say how many waivers MedChoice sold or Coble signed, but it does say waivers were sent to people in at least Tennessee, Maine, and Washington.
Coble's waivers were issued in the second year of the covid-19 pandemic, when vaccine hesitancy was rampant but some employers, college campuses, and events had begun to require proof of vaccination. Some MedChoice customers submitted Coble’s waivers to their jobs or schools, and if those waivers were rejected, Coble would “contact the department that rejected the waiver to try and convince them to reverse their decision,” according to the document.
The MedChoice waivers were exposed in a November 2021 investigation by Nashville's NewsChannel 5, which purchased a waiver for a dog owned by investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus, a black Labrador retriever named Charlie, by saying he had "an irrational fear of needles."
Although Charlie was not examined by a medical professional, MedChoice mailed the dog a waiver signed by Coble and a laminated waiver card saying he was "certified medically exempt from the COVID vaccination,” NewsChannel 5 reported.
The health department document made public in Coble's case makes no mention of NewsChannel 5 or Charlie. Coble could not be reached for comment. No attorney is listed for the doctor in the document. MedChoice has been dissolved, according to Tennessee business records.
This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.